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Do Mattress Covers Really Stop Bed Bugs?

As their name suggests, bed bugs are attracted to bedding materials.  That means mattresses, comforters, bed skirts, bed sheets, pillows, pillowcases, and even the surrounding wooden frames and metal springs.  In an effort to keep home and apartment bed bug infestations in check, many consumers resort to using specially designed mattress covers — but do these devices really work?  Or do you need to take additional measures to keep your infestation under control?

Where Can Bed Bugs Live?

Bed bugs are highly adaptable and can make their homes virtually anywhere.  However, they tend to congregate on and inside of mattresses and bedding materials, where they can easily hide from predators while maintaining constant access to their exclusive food source: blood.

While bed bugs are not truly social and do not build traditional “nests” in the same organized manner as other household pests, such as ants, wasps, and termites, individual specimens do tend to group in densely-packed clusters.  This habit of congregating together explains the telltale signs of an infested mattress: high concentrations of tiny blood spots and fecal stains.

Unfortunately, no type of bedding material is safe from these versatile, resilient creatures. It does not matter if you have a spring mattress, a memory foam mattress, a latex mattress, a hybrid mattress, a gel mattress, an air mattress, or even a water bed: thanks to their tiny, flattened bodies, bed bugs can take up comfortable residence in even the smallest of cracks and crevices.

When infestation does (or is expected to) occur, the victim essentially has two options: quarantine the mattress with a bed-bug-proof seal, or throw the mattress away and replace it with a new one.  Because mattresses are expensive, heavy, and can be a hassle to dispose of, many people initially try the more convenient option of using the bed bug cover.  But is this method enough?

bed bug infested mattress

Are Covers and Encasements Effective Against Mattress Infestations?

There are actually two different types of bed bug seals: mattress encasements, and mattress covers.  Mattress encasements zip closed around the entire mattress, while mattress covers generally cover only the top of the bed. Not only do mattress covers offer limited protection in terms of physical coverage, they may also use thin material which the bed bugs can puncture through.

Theoretically speaking, mattress encasements should create an impenetrable shield around the bed, which comes with another added benefit: it is easy to see and kill any bed bugs which may be crawling across the surface of the encasement.  Encasements can also be used after the infestation sets in, trapping the bed bugs inside until they eventually starve to death, but there’s a problem: an extremely heavy emphasis on the word “eventually.”

Working in laboratory conditions, researchers with UC Davis’ Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program, or IPM, have observed that bed bugs can survive as long as 400 days without a single drop of blood, depending on environmental factors like the temperature and humidity.  Adults were generally observed to last longer than unfed specimens in the nymph stage.

Unless you’re satisfied with glacial progress, and are willing to wait over a year to starve out your bed bugs — to say nothing of the eggs, nymphs, or adults already thriving in the plentiful nooks and crannies outside your mattress — the mattress encasement method is simply not sufficient.  Remember, the presence of bed bugs is not merely a nuisance, but often equates to medical problems, property damage, constant itching, and psychological distress.  In this instance, slow and steady does not win the race.

bed bug extermination

When to Call a Professional Pest Control Company

Mattress covers and encasements are unlikely to protect you from an infestation, and may even offer a mild degree of relief.  If your child is going to summer camp or you’re planning a vacation, sealing your clothes and personal possessions with a bed bug barrier is preferable to doing nothing at all.

However, because these treatment methods are slow-working at best and completely unreliable at worst, it is always advisable to bolster your at-home quarantine efforts with professional extermination services.  Drug store pesticides and eco-friendly DIY treatments seldom offer any lasting or meaningful relief.  Like cockroaches, bed bugs are notorious for their hardiness, meaning any treatments short of the expert application of industrial-grade pesticides are unlikely to solve the problem in the long-term.

If you are a homeowner, you should contact a licensed pest control company immediately. While you are likely in a hurry to resolve the problem, it is worth taking the time to compare reviews of local pest companies.  If you make an uninformed decision and the company you select does not render effective treatment, you will have to go through the process all over again, wasting time and money while prolonging your exposure to serious health risks like Chagas Disease and hepatitis B.

If you are a renter, you should promptly address the issue with your landlord.  Depending on your municipality’s building code, your landlord may be responsible for bed bug extermination.

If you suffered property damage or serious personal injury due to a bed bug infestation, the attorneys of Whitney, LLP may be able to help defend your legal rights and recover compensation on your behalf.  To set up a free and private case evaluation, call our law offices today at (410) 583-8000.

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